Usability Testing – Kill Your Darlings

Last night was another interesting monthly WordPressDC Meetup. This time, the topic was on, “Users: Understanding and making features for them.”

Evan Solomon gave a really interesting presentation on usability testing for wordpress.com. His slides don’t really do justice to his talk, which was filled with anecdotes on improving the usability of the WordPress home page. The objective was to increase sign-ups for this blogging service. They performed A/B testing using Optimizely. This type of testing is where you present half of users one version of your web page (the A version) and the other half another version (the B version). You then measure which page does better.

In the case of wordpress.com, the simpler version did better. Less text, fewer buttons and more white space meant more sign-ups. Evan said that there was a lot of interesting items on the original home page, things that the team really liked. But they got rid of them because they didn’t perform as well as the simple page.

There are a couple of lessons here:

  1. Simple is always better. Think Google or Apple – it’s about taking things out. People who work on web sites should read Strunk & White: The Elements of Style. It’s a little book about grammar but its lessons on clear, concise writing are directly applicable to web content.
  2. Listen to users. There’s a lot of resistance toward usability testing within organizations. They don’t want to give people what they want – they cling to the broadcast model of “we’ll tell you what we want you to know,” as if there’s not a billion other web sites out there.

There’s a saying among writers that you must “kill your darlings.” That means take out the florid passages that you love but don’t help the reader. Do the same with your web site.

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer and photographer from Washington, DC. He is the author of the mystery novel The Swamp, as well as articles, short stories and screenplays. In his spare time, he likes wandering about the city with a camera.

1 thought on “Usability Testing – Kill Your Darlings”

  1. Thanks for the write up, Joe. I’m glad the talk went over well. You guys were awesome when it came for Q&A, everybody jumped right in without the usual awkward silence.

    I’m looking forward to getting back to another DC meetup when I’m on the east coast again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *